Escaping the Wilderness
Does escape from our personal Wilderness always entail a gruesome All Is Lost Moment? Must we hit bottom before we can come back up?
I don’t think so. But the answer, it seems, always involves deep and serious introspection.
It could be psychoanalysis (of the talking kind, not the pharmaceutical) or its equivalent. Meditation perhaps. A mentor. A spouse. A friend. An ally who can provide the perspective (and the psychic safety) for us to face the demons we’ve been in denial of our whole life.
Or, if we’re really exceptional, we can do it on our own, looking deeply within.
There’s an axiom in screenwriting that the All Is Lost Moment is embedded in the Setup.
Another way to put this is, “Your shrink gets your craziness in the first session. He or she could spell it out for you right then, but they won’t because they know you’ll only reject it. You need to come to it on your own.”
Consider Sylvester Stallone’s script for Rocky. We see in the opening scenes (the Setup) that Rocky’s issue is that the world sees him as “a bum”—and, worse, he agrees. Everything in Rocky’s life, from his horrible apartment to his job as a bone-breaker to his locker at the gym reinforces the psychic reality of his bum-hood. In the audience, we sense that Rocky, if he’s going to save himself, is going to have to come to a crisis point where he must confront this—and make the decision to overcome it.
Here’s that moment, the Epiphanal Moment, from just before Act Three:
…it’s true, Adrian. I was nobody. But that don’t matter either, you know? ’Cause I was thinkin’, it really don’t matter if I lose this fight. It really don’t matter if this guy opens my head either. ’Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I’m still standin’, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.
In Rocky’s case, he needed an All Is Lost Moment. He needed that Big Crash to give him the desperation to reach an Epiphany. But theoretically he could have come to that realization on his own or with assistance—as we said, a shrink, a mentor, a spouse, a friend—and, little by little, self-revelation by self-revelation, peeled back the onion till he came to its core.
There’s a word for this capacity.
I didn’t have it in my own life, that’s for sure. I needed to hit bottom.
But that moment is not inevitable. I salute anyone who can get there on his or her own. God bless you. That’s guts. That’s insight.